0-3D in 2 seconds with the Sony HXR-NX3D1E camcorder

Sony HXR-NX3D1 3D camcorder front viewThe new HXR-NX3D1E is Sony’s first palm-sized professional HD 3D camcorder and with delivery of the finished product now just a few days away we’ve finally managed to get our hands on a prototype for evaluation. Better late than never!

At a glance I thought this was two MC50E’s shoe-horned into a dual lens chassis, but as Phil ‘one shirt’ Myers observed it’s really based around the guts of two HXR-NX70E’s (albeit without the rain and dust proof feature). This is exciting because the NX70E is one of the very best compact HD camcorders available, delivering excellent images along with a whole range of useful features such as fantastic Image Stabilisation, TeleMacro and 50fps Progressive Scan recording. (See our previous NX70 review).

The NX3D1E is physically a little bit chunkier in girth than the NX70E due to the need for dual lenses & image sensors, however it it shorter in length and remains very compact, balancing nicely in the palm of your hand. Like the NX70 it has a removable handle & XLR input module and is supplied with a good quality camera microphone as standard. There are no traditional lens control rings for Aperture, Focus or Zoom because those functions are all electronically controlled in order to keep both lenses completely synchronous. Instead there’s a single manual control dial which can be assigned to control focus, aperture or convergence. By default it controls convergence and fortunately that’s probably the most frequently adjusted control when shooting in 3D… More on convergence a bit later!

Sony HXR-NX3D1E rear buttons

There’s no on/off switch in the usual place by the record stop / start button on the chassis: It powers up automatically when the LCD viewfinder panel is opened (there is a power button beneath the LCD panel too). At this stage there’s a click as the automatic lens hood opens and then you get a shock: The LCD viewfinder’s image literally jumps out at you in 3D without any need for glasses! WOW!

This is not only a ‘cool’ feature, it also means that you can get a pretty accurate idea of how your images will look on a proper 3D screen BUT be warned: If you watch this screen whilst displaying poorly setup shots with exaggerated 3D you’ll get a headache within minutes!!

I’m not sure why, but the camera has a flip out LCD viewfinder only. I would have much preferred the inclusion of a traditional monocular eyepiece viewfinder at the back too but I guess Sony figured it wasn’t worth the extra cost because you do have to use the touch panel for almost all camera settings and of course you can’t see in 3D with one eye either!

In the spot where you’d expect the monocular viewfinder to be there’s a big switch that enables the camera to be set to shoot in either 2D or 3D mode

In this mini preview I’m not going to bore you with the basic 2D features & menu structures and functions, especially since these are near identical and all covered in our HXR-NX70E review – Instead I’m going to give you the inside track on creating the best possible 3D in the shortest time! To do this all you need to do is turn the camera on, set up a shot and properly set the convergence of the camera’s left and right images… Here’s how you do that:

Sony HXR-NX3D1E LHS view

Open the viewfinder to turn the camera on and reveal the 2D / 3D Disp button. This button allows the display to be toggled between 2D, Convergence (L+R overlay) and 3D modes. Set the mode to Convergence (In this mode the left and right images are overlaid on alternate lines, so you see horizontal off-set between the left and right images at all points other than the point of convergence) You then use the rotary dial to adjust the convergence to the desired distance. At the point of convergence the Left and Right images are perfectly aligned and this is very easy to see in the LCD viewfinder.

Convergence ‘in a nutshell’

Diagram illustrating Convergence angle, convergence point and Inter-Ocular distance

The convergence point defines the screen plane, with objects in front of the screen plane appearing to pop out of the screen towards the viewer and objects behind the screen appearing to be behind the screen. Extreme caution should be used when placing objects in front of the convergence point as this can lead to a very exaggerated 3D effect which can induce to nausea and headaches etc… Leave the cheesy 3D effects to theme park experiences! In my humble opinion the best 3D is subtle, giving a similar impression of scene depth to naked human eyes

Setting convergence is a cinch on the HXR-NX3D1E, the rotary dial providing fine adjustment. You then press the 2D / 3D Disp button three times and you can see the scene in 3D, the only way it could be simpler is if the camera could set convergence automatically – AND IT CAN! Yes, you can set convergence to automatic and then literally point and shoot with surprisingly good results!

It’s worth bearing in mind that most one piece 3D camcorders don’t actually mechanically adjust convergence – Instead they shoot parallel images and then electronically vary the horizontal alignment (convergence) of the images. Whilst this technique is technically not quite as good I note that many high end productions prefer to shoot parallel and have the maximum flexibility to vary convergence during post production. Of course it follows that even if the NX3D1E’s convergence was set inappropriately during shooting it could almost certainly be corrected in post too. The big benefit of being able to set convergence in camera is that you can produce 3D footage for live transmission and fast turnaround applications such as Journalism etcetera…

If you shoot live events, from football matches to weddings and want to gain a competitive advantage by setting your footage apart from your competitors then shooting 3D may be the answer and the NX3D1E is the perfect tool for this job, especially when set in full auto mode!

If you’re lucky enough to have a 3D Sony Bravia TV (or similar 3D TV) at home then you’ll be delighted to know that outputting your material is as simple as plugging in an HDMI cable between the camera and the TV, donning your 3D specs and engaging playback – The results are stunning and you can even view 3D live from the camera!

In summary
If you definitely don’t want, don’t need or you simply refuse to entertain shooting 3D then the HXR-NX70E is a better choice for 2D work, but the fact is that with the HXR-NX3D1E delivering the 2D quality of the NX70E as well as the extra third dimension for around £600 more then it is a very tempting package that should encourage many to start creating a perhaps more future-proof 3D archive…

We like:
• Great picture quality
• Excellent value
• Versatile LCD display with no-glasses 3D
• 3D Point and Shoot Simplicity
• Excellent menu system
• Pro Audio connectivity
• Compact size

We don’t like:
• Lack of monocular VF
• Lack of manual lens controls

For further information click here or call us on 01527 854222 to arrange a hands-on demonstration of the HXR-NX3D1E.
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